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Pictures that Require Great Imagination

Several months ago, one of my daughters called me.

"Dad, do you still have that old camera? The one that used actual film?"

"You mean my Nikon 35mm single lens reflex camera?" I responded.

"Yeah, that one!"

"I think so--somewhere. Why?"

She explained how she was decorating one room of her home in a travel theme to reflect her and her husband's love of world travel. She already had a world map with pins stuck into it, indicating everywhere they'd traveled. Enlarged photos of Bolivia, Paris, Greece, and several other foreign countries adorn the room's walls. Now she wanted something more.

"Could you let me borrow it indefinitely? You don't use it anymore, do you?"

No, I don't. Digital technology has made the 35mm SLR obsolete, and I've forgotten much of what little I knew of 35mm photography--except how expensive it was to develop the film. Digital is much cheaper (no film to buy or develop). Besides, it allows one to take more pictures--and delete or edit the bad. (For example, on our trip to the Southwest a few years ago, I amassed more than 1,700 photos on my digital camera.)

I finally found the requested camera and was surprised to discover that it contained a roll of exposed film. I couldn't recall the last time I had used it. Nudged by curiosity, I took it to my local Walgreens to see if they could develop it for me. (Several other places I checked had told me they no longer bothered with 35mm film. It was for the Stone Age.)

Two months after having dropped off the film, I still had not been notified that my prints were ready. Based on the less-than-stellar service I had received when I dropped off the film, I doubted they'd ever sent my film to whoever develops it for them--or maybe they had lost it. So I stopped in to check on the status of my order.

Surprisingly, it was ready. How long the prints had sat in their bin was anyone's guess. They obviously weren't going to make any effort to notify me.

I opened the package to inspect the contents and to learn what I had photographed and when. A CD and about a dozen prints fell out. (It had been a 24-exposure roll.)

I immediately realized that the prints were hopelessly blurred or too dark to identify the subjects. After close study and a lot of imaginative speculation, however, I determined that the pictures had been taken before any of our daughters had married. That means that the film was at least 10 years old, maybe older.

I thought I could just make out the fronds of a palm tree, leading me to guess that the pictures had been taken in Florida, perhaps at the Florida Welcome Center on the Georgia-Florida line. It had become our tradition to stop there to get our complimentary Dixie cup of orange or grapefruit juice and take a picture by the "Welcome to Florida" sign so we could gauge how much the kids had grown since the last time we were there.

"Those pictures look like abstract art!" my wife commented as she looked at them.

"More like impressionism," I suggested. "See, look at this one."

I held up one print in front of her.

"I think it's called 'The Old Man and the Sea.' See the sand, the waves, and the old man walking along the beach? I think it's by Monet."

"Or maybe," she offered, "we should call it 'The Ghost by the Coast.'"

At least digital photography allows one to edit as necessary. But will it stimulate the imagination as much as the old 35mm film did?

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